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Iron Deficiency Anemia: Care Instructions


Iron deficiency anemia means that your body doesn't have the iron it needs to make enough red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body. With fewer red blood cells, your blood isn't able to carry enough oxygen to the cells in your body. This can make you feel weak and tired or dizzy.

Many things can cause anemia, such as blood loss from heavy menstrual periods or stomach ulcers. It can happen if you don't have enough iron in your diet or if it's hard for your body to absorb iron. In some cases, pregnancy causes anemia. That's because you need more iron during pregnancy.

Your doctor may do tests to find the cause. If a disease or other health problem is causing it, your doctor will treat that problem.

It's important to follow up with your doctor to make sure that your iron level returns to normal.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor recommended iron pills, talk with your doctor about how often to take them. Taking iron pills every other day may help your body absorb iron better than taking them every day. And you may have fewer side effects with an every-other-day schedule.
    • Try to take the pills on an empty stomach. You can do this about 1 hour before or 2 hours after meals. But you may need to take iron with food to avoid an upset stomach.
    • Do not take antacids or drink milk or anything with caffeine within 2 hours of when you take your iron. They can keep your body from absorbing the iron well.
    • Vitamin C may help your body absorb iron. Some people take iron pills with a glass of orange juice or some other food high in vitamin C.
    • Iron pills may cause stomach problems. These include heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and cramps. It can help to drink plenty of fluids and include fruits, vegetables, and fibre in your diet.
    • It's normal for iron pills to make your stool a greenish or greyish black. But internal bleeding can also cause dark stool. So it's important to tell your doctor about any colour changes.
    • Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your iron pills. Even after you start to feel better, it will take several months for your body to build up its supply of iron.
    • If you miss a pill, don't take a double dose.
    • Keep iron pills out of the reach of small children. Too much iron can be very dangerous.
  • Eat foods with a lot of iron. These include red meat, poultry, and eggs. They also include beans, raisins, whole grain bread, fortified cereals, and leafy green vegetables.
  • Be safe with medicines. Do not take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers unless your doctor tells you to. These include aspirin, naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
  • Liquid iron can stain your teeth. But you can mix it with water or juice and drink it with a straw. Then it won't get on your teeth.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe shortness of breath.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are short of breath.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have new or worse bleeding.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You feel weaker or more tired than usual.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.